Obituary: Johan Jorgen Holst

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The Independent Online
Johan Jorgen Holst, historian, politician, negotiator: born Oslo 29 November 1937; Director of Research, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs 1969-76, Director 1981-94; State Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Norway 1976-79; junior minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1979-81; Minister of Defence 1986-89, 1990-93; Foreign Minister 1993-94; twice married (two sons, three daughters); died Sunnaas, Oslo 13 January 1994.

JOHAN JORGEN HOLST, the Norwegian Foreign Minister, came to world attention in September 1993 as one of the key brokers - through the so-called Oslo channel - for the Israel-PLO accord. This achievement brought him a nomination for the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize earlier this week. He was also seen as a likely successor to Manfred Worner as Secretary-General of Nato. It is clear that he will be missed not only by the Norwegian Labour government but by a wider international community including political circles in Western Europe, Washington and the Middle East.

Holst's interest and involvement in international affairs resulted from his studies at Columbia University in the early Sixties, and in 1968 his key book on Norwegian security policy in a strategic perspective was published. He then became research director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and its director in 1981. He alternated this latter position with posts in the Ministry of Defence during Labour governments. He was an adviser there for five years, then a junior minister, and, in May 1986, Minister of Defence. He held this post until the election of September 1989 but returned to office in October 1990 when a minority Labour administration replaced a Conservative-led government. Last April he took over as Minister of Foreign Affairs from Thorvald Stoltenberg, his wife's brother-in-law, who became the UN negotiator in former Yugoslavia.

Holst was able to put his strategic studies expertise to good use at the Ministry of Defence. He proved to be a loyal - though sometimes critical - ally of the United States. He was closely involved in building up the necessary infrastructure to receive Nato assistance in the case that the Soviet Union's armed might in the Kola peninsula were ever used against Norway. As Minister of Defence he developed the concept of matching deterrence and defence with detente, and sought to encourage the moves towards European-wide troop and arms reductions and East-West confidence-building measures.

His view of international affairs was essentially a liberal institutionalist one that placed emphasis on Norway's need for international law and institutions and on an active peace diplomacy. He recognised that small states would benefit from wider attempts to turn the international system into an international society. But this needed to be based on concrete action: thus his involvement in the Middle East. His wife, Marianne Heiberg, is an expert on the area whose work for the Norwegian Labour Party research organisation, FAFO, had led her to believe that the Palestinians and Israelis both wished for a peace settlement. Secret negotiations in Tunis and Oslo were helped by the presence of two husband-and-wife teams - one being Holst and Heiberg - and the charm of the four-year-old Edvard Holst.

After the visits of Israel's Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, to Oslo on 20 August 1993, the peace accord was signed on the White House lawn on 13 September - the day of the Norwegian general election - with Holst as a guest of honour.

(Photograph omitted)